How to have a great day with your loved one living with dementia can seem as elusive as a unicorn, if you’re not sure what’s preventing a great day from happening in the first place.

Blaming the dementia itself is always a temptation, and in some cases that may be true. I’ve seen plenty of people go to the other extreme, too, thinking the person living with dementia is the reason a great day is out of reach.

Could You Be Making These Common Mistakes?

Before I get to the how of having a great day, I’ll shed some light on the most common mistakes that lead to a not-so-great day.

Thinking it’s not even possible.

Happily, this is false. Keep reading and I’ll show you how to pull it off.

Thinking your loved one is apathetic.

Or doesn’t want to do anything, or likes to “just sit there like a bump on a log.” Again, this is (happily) false. The likeliest cause is the person is at a point in the disease process where she’s unable to hold onto a thought long enough to carry it through to a meaningful action.

Not bringing your best.

Energy is contagious. It’s why you like hanging out with your bestie and despise getting stuck between Uncle Crazypants and Aunt Busybody at family gatherings. If you feel like a horse that’s been rode hard and put away wet, chances are high you’re transmitting that loud and clear, even if you don’t mean to.

Barking orders like a drill sergeant.

Do you mean to? Of course not! Is it an easy trap to fall into when you’re trying to get stuff done? Yep.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

This is, by far, the most common cause of having a not-so-great day. How on earth are you supposed to know what you don’t know…like HOW to make it a great day? But you’re here now, so you’ll be up to speed in no time. 🙂

How To Have A Great Day with Your Loved One Living with Dementia

Start Here

If you know where your loved one is in the disease process, it’s easier to have realistic expectations about what they can and can’t do. For example, if your dad scores a 6e on the FAST Scale, you might want to avoid a long outing without a go bag.

Set The Tone

Respect, kindness, and love is my mantra. As in, everyone living with dementia deserves to be treated with respect, kindness, and love in every interaction. Those three elements are what I call the good stuff. And because energy is contagious, you’ll be the immediate beneficiary.

Sometimes, though, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to get a task done or thinking ahead to the next thing. Instead, take a deep breath and consciously call in the good stuff. Your only job in the interaction is to exude the good stuff.

Start The Day

You’ve got realistic expectations and you’re bringing the good stuff. You’re definitely headed in the right direction! Next, get off to a great start. Incorporate rituals wherever you can that will add routine, predictability, and fun. This is a great way to start the day.

Once your parent or partner is out of bed and the essentials (eg, toileting) have been taken care of, try giving a hug and saying, “I love you and I’m happy we’re together.” If you already do that, kudos!

Usually we easily fall into the task trap: out of bed, toileting, grooming, eat breakfast. That can easily be a two hour sequence before generating any gratuitous good feelings. In fact, set a goal for the day. See if you can pull off 20 random, out-of-nowhere hugs and “I love you”s.

Have A Plan

If you’re a breezy, roll-with-it, let’s-see-where-the-day-takes-us free spirit, wonderful! This is going to help enormously when something goes sideways.

If you’re a by-the-book, I-was-a-Girl-Scout-OF-COURSE-I-have-a-plan! type, wonderful! This is going to help enormously in navigating through the day.

Now, whichever your default personality type, I need you to take on the other type as your alter-ego. You will need it, I promise you. People living with dementia need structure and predictability and routine and absolute tolerance and flexibility when something inevitably goes wrong for whatever reason. What a growth opportunity for you, right?

My dad was fond of saying, “Have a plan, work your plan, but don’t plan the results.” #WordsToLiveBy

Have a good idea of what the day will look like, and move forward from there. No worries if something doesn’t work out at the last minute, or something runs over the allotted time. Be flexible and substitute as needed.

This sample calendar gives you an idea of the type of structure to put in place, plus reminds you to add in toileting breaks and snacks during the day. Adjust times as necessary according to where your loved one is in the disease process. People further along will need shorter activities and a rest break. Sample 7am-5pm. Sample 5pm-9:30pm.

Concrete Ideas

Now you know the mistakes to avoid and the elements you need for how to have a great day with your loved one living with dementia. The next piece is, what exactly should you do? Download 101 Things To Do with A Person with Dementia.

I think the list originally came from the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota chapter. There are some great ideas, and some lame ones. But there are one hundred and one of them, which is the main thing.

And let me know how it goes! Share your experiences in the comments below, plus any/all genius ideas you have for how to have a great day with your loved one living with dementia.


Christy Turner is the founder of and has enjoyed the privilege of working with 1,123 people living with dementia and their families. Follow on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Content varies across platforms.